Guest post by Tony Brown
Context is everything, and nowhere more so than in climate history, where a graphic such as this seems to illustrate an alarming uptick in temperatures that has been blamed on modern man and his profligate burning of CO2;
But take one step back;
And the recent analysis from BEST seems to illustrate a tantalizing suggestion that the warming observed by GISS to 1880 was merely part of a longer term trend.
Take several even longer steps backwards, through the medium of Central England temperature (CET) the oldest and most examined instrumental data set in the world- maintained by the UK’s Met office- and this puts GISS into further historic context, in that the temperature rise extends-with numerous advances and reverses- all the way to 1659.
This long slow thaw is clearly at odds with the current view of climate history, best described by the UK Met office-a prime contributor through the Hadley centre to the IPCC assessments, who assert:
Extract “Before the twentieth century, when man-made greenhouse gas emissions really took off, there was an underlying stability to global climate. The temperature varied from year to year, or decade to decade, but stayed within a certain range and averaged out to an approximately steady level.”
The IPCC themselves say;
1 IPCC FAQ 6.2 Page114 of TAR4.
‘All published reconstructions find that temperatures were warm during medieval times, cooled to low values in the 16th 17th 18th 19th centuries, then warmed rapidly after that.’
The author has twice requested the Met office to provide the studies used in their assertions, but to date, although acknowledgement of the request was made, no information has been forthcoming.
The Met office and IPCC view of climate history appears to have been formulated as a result of the iconic ‘hockey stick’, which reversed the existing knowledge of climate history.
The hockey stick shows a relatively stable climate with a modest cooling trend from 1500 –after the brief dip and recovery immediately preceding it -until the dramatic upsurge in temperatures from around 1900. The period prior to 1900 was calculated through a variety of proxies such as tree rings, and appears to be at odds with the many instrumental records available, and also of -currently unfashionable- first hand historical observations and records which are available in abundance.
That temperature trends were rising gently throughout the instrumental period from 1659 to the present day should prompt the question as to when it commenced, as it would be the most amazing coincidence should it start during the first year that instrumental records became available.
After extensive research- including in the archives of the Met office- my own estimate would be that the low point was reached around 1607/8 (the subject of a future article) following a period of decline from around 1560, which in itself had reached a peak around that time following the short lived but intense cold of the first ‘little ice age’. In this context therefore the official Hadley/Cru global temperature figure from 1850 or Giss from 1880 can be seen as a continuation of this warming trend-which had already started by the time the Mayflower set sail- and not the start of it.
Other intriguing things that commenced in 1607 are mentioned here;
In this article we shall therefore follow this gently warming trend from the first decades of the 17th century, after first identifying the dates of the decline seen in the previous half century.
First it is useful to mention that the expression ‘Little Ice age,’ is something of a misnomer. What we can determine with certainty, by looking at the available instrumental data and related historical observation, is that there were undoubtedly some anomalously cold periods which captures the episodic and very wide spread nature of the mis-termed Little Ice Age. It is mis-termed because during this era there were also some very warm periods, and every condition in between, and the popular impression of unremitting cold for 400 years or more is inaccurate. The episodically severe nature-often on a year on year basis- may explain why some reconstructions appear to be unable to accurately model the considerable fluctuations in climate experienced during this time.
The LIA was in fact a phrase first introduced into scientific literature by François E. Matthes as recently as 1939, who subsequently believed the term ‘neo-glaciation’ was more accurate.
The second phase of the LIA was at its intermittent severest for some 150 years from around 1560, with the coldest year probably being 1607/8 and a further notable-and well documented- prolonged dip in the second half of the 17th century. The severity of the episodic LIA sharply diminished around 1700 (although it did recur, in successive centuries) and the dramatic rise in temperatures during the early part of the 18th century is unparalleled in the entire CET record. This long steady (overall) rise is therefore evident throughout the instrumental record of CET from 1660, and confirmed by other instrumental data sets from the early 18th Century onwards, although the general warming was still interspersed with several relatively short lived reverses.
These next two links show the long, gentle, warming trend, evidenced from numerous historic instrumental records. Virtually all the cities concerned have become heavily urbanized, thereby also demonstrating the likely effects of UHI, especially in recent decades.
(both sets of graphics copyright 2009 Nick Willmore)
Historic instrumental data, plus other articles are carried here on the author’s web site.
The global 1850 Cru and 1880 Giss records can thus start to be seen more readily in their broader context, as merely plugging into the middle of an already well-established long warming trend-and not heralding the beginning.
In the remainder of this article we will primarily concern ourselves with demonstrating the reality of this long warming trend by highlighting the somewhat lesser known periods of warmth, up until the modern era, that punctuated the better documented cold, from approximately 1560 onwards. However we shall start the observational portion of this short (and by no means comprehensive) climatic anthology with a somewhat chilling quote from 1300 years earlier. This marked the precursor to the intermittent start of the Dark ages cold period, following another notable climatic epoch-that of the warm Roman optimum. (The first comment noted hereunder is eerily reflected by the quote immediately following, which heralds the start of the new cooling epoch in the middle decades of the 16th century.)
Saint Cyrian was Bishop of Carthage around 250AD.* (see Note 1) He was talking about the huge increase in Rome’s population which had caused wars against Carthage and the building of 500 towns in North Africa to satisfy the eternal city’s ever increasing needs for timber, cereal, and exotic animals for its gladiatorial contests. Here is an account of lack of sustainability and climate change caused by a variety of factors, with the hints of a decline in the warm climate that had sustained Rome now starting to work against them as it intermittently turned cooler
‘The world has grown old and does not remain in its former vigour. It bears witness to its own decline. The rainfall and the suns warmth are both diminishing. The metals are nearly exhausted the husbandman is failing in his fields. Springs which once gushed forth liberally now barely give a trickle of water.’
Around 1560 the Rev Schaller, pastor of Strendal in the Prussian Alps wrote;
“There is no real constant sunshine neither a steady winter nor summer, the earth’s crops and produce do not ripen, are no longer as healthy as they were in bygone years. The fruitfulness of all creatures and of the world as a whole is receding, fields and grounds have tired from bearing fruits and even become impoverished, thereby giving rise to the increase of prices and famine, as is heard in towns and villages from the whining and lamenting among the farmers.”
The reality of this period of cold is reinforced by this account from 1610 when John Taylor, talking of the hills around him in Deeside Scotland, remarked that “the oldest men alive never saw but snow on the top of divers of these hills both in summer as in winter.”
(Both quotes from the book ‘The Little Ice Age’ by Brian Fagan)
However, that mild conditions can prevail even during the harshest periods of the LIA can also be seen here, when we examine the arrival of the Mayflower in America in 1620. The initial cold weather quickly gave way to a mild winter described here;
“The winter of 1620-’21 was “a calm winter, such as was never seen here since,” wrote Thomas Dudley of Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Edward Winslow, one of the original Pilgrims, also wrote about the “remarkable mildness” of that first winter in Good Newes from New England, published in 1624. There was testimony by others to a mild end of December, a moderate January, a brief cold spell with sleet and some snow in early February, followed by definitely mild conditions and an early spring.”
A brief breakdown in the cold trend in Britain was also observed in the diary entry of Samuel Pepys for January 1660/61-the year the Royal Society was established- when he wrote;
“It is strange what weather we have had all this winter; no cold at all; but the ways are dusty, and the flyes fly up and down, and the rose-bushes are full of leaves, such a time of the year as was never known in this world before here.”
That summers could still be hot was felt during 1666 when the UK had an extremely hot dry summer (brought on by a blocking high pressure system over Scandinavia). The hot dry North easterlies helped spread the devastating Great fire of London in 1666. The following winter, however was so cold that the great oak trees of the English Midlands split. (Humidity has a great part to play in temperatures)
The growing warmth of the early part of the 18th Century was noted here by Hubert Lamb on page 12 and 13 of this study;
“The remarkable turn of the climate of Europe towards greater warmth from soon after the beginning of the eighteenth century and affecting all seasons of the year in the 1730’s seems to have produced little comment at the time, though by then the temperatures were being observed with thermometers and entered into regularly maintained observation books in a number of places.”
Our modern bouts of amnesia regarding previous climatic conditions can be seen to be nothing new by reading the comments from the annals of Dumfermline Scotland from 1733/4, when it recorded that wheat was first grown in the district in 1733. Lamb wryly observes that was not correct, as enough wheat had been grown further north in the early 1500’s to sustain an export trade (before the 1560’s downturn).
This information also usefully confirms a warm period around that date, to one that had changed to a cold period by the time of Pastor Schaller commenting in 1560.
The warmth in the early decades of the 1700’s could also be discerned in the author’s article here, where CET records can be matched to that of Uppsala Sweden and where observations from the Botanical gardens illustrate the growing warmth. There is also a comparison to nearby Stockholm, where the effects of UHI on urbanized stations can be seen.
The following, condensed from the records of the Hudson Bay Company, also demonstrate that climate change is not a new phenomenon, and was not restricted to Europe.
“Over the fifteen years between 1720 and 1735, the first snowfall of the year moved from the first week of September to the last. Also, the late 1700s were turbulent years. They were extremely cold but annual snow cover would vary from ‘extreme depth to no cover’. For instance, November 10th 1767 only one snowfall that quickly thawed had been recorded. June 6, 1791 many feet of snow in the post’s gardens. The entry for July 14, 1798 reads ‘…53 degrees colder today than it was yesterday.”
This next excerpt comes from the extensive weather records of Thomas Jefferson; (the warm weather of the early 1700’s has given way to intense cold then another period of warmth)
“A change in our climate however is taking place very sensibly. Both heats and colds are become much more moderate within the memory even of the middle-aged. Snows are less frequent and less deep. They do not often lie, below the mountains, more than one, two, or three days, and very rarely a week. They are remembered to have been formerly frequent, deep, and of long continuance. The elderly inform me the earth used to be covered with snow about three months in every year. The rivers, which then seldom failed to freeze over in the course of the winter, scarcely ever do so now. This change has produced an unfortunate fluctuation between heat and cold, in the spring of the year, which is very fatal to fruits. From the year 1741 to 1769, an interval of twenty-eight years, there was no instance of fruit killed by the frost in the neighbourhood of Monticello. An intense cold, produced by constant snows, kept the buds locked up till the sun could obtain, in the spring of the year, so fixed an ascendancy as to dissolve those snows, and protect the buds, during their development, from every danger of returning cold. The accumulated snows of the winter remaining to be dissolved all together in the spring, produced those over flowings of our rivers, so frequent then, and so rare now.” (From observation 1772 to 1779)
Here the warming trends in Prague 1770 hint at an intriguing example of subsequently adjusted data;
In the Australia of 1791 we have a record which has clear resonance with modern times.
“But even this heat was judged to be far exceeded in the latter end of the following February, when the north-west wind again set in, and blew with great violence for three days. At Sydney, it fell short by one degree of what I have just recorded: but at Rose Hill, it was allowed, by every person, to surpass all that they had before felt, either there or in any other part of the world. Unluckily they had no thermometer to ascertain its precise height. It must, however, have been intense, from the effects it produced. An immense flight of bats driven before the wind, covered all the trees around the settlement, whence they every moment dropped dead or in a dying state, unable longer to endure the burning state of the atmosphere. Nor did the ‘perroquettes’, though tropical birds, bear it better. The ground was strewn with them in the same condition as the bats.”
The account later relates-reinforcing the realities of inconsistent methodologies commented on over a century ago by the eminent climatologist Dr Von Hann-“The thermometer, whence my observations were constantly made, was hung in the open air in a southern aspect, never reached by the rays of the sun, at the distance of several feet above the ground.”
From America we have this contemporary comment;
“The temperature of the winter season, in northern latitudes, has suffered a material change, and become warmer in modern, than it was in ancient times. … Indeed I know not whether any person, in this age, has ever questioned the fact.” —Noah Webster, 1758-1843 (founder- Webster’s dictionary)
In this next article the author looked at the lives and times of famous people living in Teignmouth on the South Coast of England in order to examine the warming trend-punctuated by cold periods- experienced in Europe through the 19th Century by following one of this town’s famous sons-the harpist Elias Parish Alvars- as he travels through Europe on concert tours.
“His birth in 1808 saw a distinctly Little Ice age CET mean temperature of only 8.84C with a decadal 1800-1809 CET of 9.17C a prelude to what remains as about the coldest decade from that day to this during 1810-1819 at 8.798C.” (This era of growing warmth following this bitterly cold decade was also recounted in my account of the early life of Charles Dickens referenced later)
Following observations from whalers from the same port of Teignmouth, we have this from the annals of the Royal Society in 1817;
“It will without doubt have come to your Lordship’s knowledge that a considerable change of climate, inexplicable at present to us, must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past enclosed the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice has been during the last two years, greatly abated….”
This quote –from a book of the period-comes from the same source;
“The uncharted coastline of east Greenland became clear of ice around 1820, and in 1822 Scoresby, in the midst of an arduous whaling voyage, sailed along some 400 miles of this inhospitable landscape, charting it, and naming point as he went in honour of scientific and other friends, chief of which was Scoresby Sound, named for his father. Almost all his place names survive today.”
This melting was described by the author in the article referenced above, which examined the little known period 1815-60 when the Arctic ice melted and the Royal Society mounted an expedition to investigate the causes. This period of melt during the 1820’s is also mentioned here;
“From an examination of the Greenland captains, it has been found that owing to some convulsions of nature , the sea was more open and more free from compact ice than in any former voyage they ever made: that several ships actually reached the eighty-fourth degree of latitude, in which no ice whatever was found; that for the first time for 400 years, vessels penetrated to the west coast of Greenland, and that they apprehended no obstacle to their even reaching the pole, if it had consisted with their duty to their employers to make the attempt.”
This intriguing reference to ‘400 years’ illustrates that Arctic travel was also possible in the 1400’s and possibly relates to the last known settlements of the Vikings, who had experienced hundreds of years of relative warmth in Greenland before ice closed the sea lanes as the temperatures turned down around the 1300’s during the first Little Ice age, from which temperatures subsequently recovered to a peak by around 1560.
(Arctic melting appears to have been happening with some regularity, from the Ipiatuk civilization some 3000 years ago, the Vikings a thousand years ago, at various times during the LIA- most notably the early 1700’s and 1817 onwards- and prior to the current warming there was another episode recorded between 1918 to 1940.)
The steady rise in temperatures during the 19th century was documented here, when the author asked tongue in cheek if Charles Dickens had shaped our perception of climate change through his portrayal of Victorian winters in his book ‘A Christmas Carol.’
“Dickens life demonstrates the extraordinary variability of the British winters during that era, when the coldest and warmest winters in the CET records can be juxtaposed. Generally there are few examples of constant cold winters year after year-the LIA was becoming much more sporadic than it had been several centuries earlier, when bitter cold weather appears to have been the norm. To put this era into perspective mature English people might be surprised to learn they lived through a much colder winter than Dickens ever experienced. 1962/3 at -0.33C was the third coldest in the entire CET record compared to Dickens coldest year 1814 at 0.43c, the fourth coldest in the record. (1962/3 was a bit of a one off-Dickens experienced a greater number of relatively cold winters)”
Hubert Lamb, in ‘Climate, History and the Modern World’, says: “Indeed, the descriptions of ‘old-fashioned’ winters for which Charles Dickens became famous in his books may owe something to the fact – exceptional for London – that of the first nine Christmases of his life, between 1812 and 1820, six were white with either frost or snow.”
Lamb also points out that the decade from 1810 to 1819 was the coldest in England since the 1690s. However, Dickens published ‘A Christmas Carol’ in December 1843 during what remains to this day as one of the warmest Decembers in British history. The two warmest winters on record occurred in 1868 and 1833.
These accounts from Russia contradict the popular notion of a shiveringly cold country and have obvious parallels with the fires of 2010.
“1831: Summer was unbearably hot, and as a consequence of numerous fires in the forests, there was a constant haze of smoke in the air, through which the sun appeared a red hot ball; the smell of burning was so strong, that it was difficult to breathe.
The years of 1839-1841 were known as the “hungry years.” In the spring of 1840, the spring sowings of corn disappeared in many places. From midway through April until the end of August not a drop of rain fell. From the beginning of summer the fields were covered with a dirty grey film of dust. All the plants wilted, dying from the heat and lack of water. It was extraordinarily hot and close, even though the sun, being covered in haze, shone very weakly through the haze of smoke.
1868: the weather was murderous. It rained once during the summer. There was a drought. The sun, like a red hot cinder, glowed through the clouds of smoke from the peat bogs. Near Peterhoff the forests and peat workings burnt, and troops dug trenches and flooded the subterranean fire. It was 40 centigrade in the open, and 28 in the shade.”
The steady rise in temperature during this period was also commented on by the author in this article, which links three long temperature records along the Hudson River in the USA. They illustrate that with a start date of 1880 GISS misses out on the preceding warm climatic cycles and that UHI appears to be a big factor in the increasingly urbanised temperature data sets from both GISS and Hadley/CRU.
That the temperature dropped from the start of James Hansen’s’ famous GISS record in 1880
places it somewhat out of context to the warmer period that preceded it, and this is reflected in this intriguing reference from the records of the Canadian Horticulturist monthly of 1880 (page 7).
“I do not know whether or not the climate of Ontario is really becoming permanently milder than formerly, but I do know that for the past 18 years or 20 years we have not experienced the same degree of cold as the seven years preceding.”
This period of transition and fluctuation between virtually modern day warmth and intermittently severe ‘Little Ice Age’ conditions- roughly 1700-1850- resulted in great storms;
Hubert Lamb also wrote of the great storms during this period in his book ‘’Historic storms of the North sea, British isles and Northwest Europe’ showing that such events are not restricted to current times.
Coming closer towards the modern era this paper ‘British Winters in relation to World Weather’ published in 1926 provides a scholarly examination of the relationships discovered, which gives us an insight into what was happening elsewhere in the world as regards a changing climate. This portion from the summary is intriguing;
“The results indicate that conditions in the Southern Hemisphere play a part comparable with that of the North Atlantic oscillation in controlling subsequent winter weather in the British Isles.”
That CET has intriguing parallels with Northern Hemispheric and the Global climate was also noted by Hubert Lamb and other researchers, and places CET as a potentially interesting, scientifically valid, proxy for the global situation.
The warm period during the 1920’s and 30’s resulted in the Arctic melting (again) recorded in this excellent free online book by Dr Arnd Bernaerts
A farmer from Buchan in North East Scotland, one of the snowiest parts of lowland Britain, wrote in the agricultural section of the local newspaper during the exceptionally mild winter of 1933/34.
“1934 has opened true to the modern tradition of open, snowless winters. The long ago winters are no precedent for our modern samples. During the last decade, during several Januarys the lark has heralded spring up in the lift from the middle to the end of the month. Not full fledged songs but preliminary bars in an effort to adapt to our climatic change.”
It then goes on to say;
“It is unwise to assume that the modern winters have displaced the old indefinitely”
and also; “Our modern winters have induced an altered agricultural regime”
John Steinbeck’s’ classic novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ spoke eloquently of the hardship caused by severe drought and heat waves in part of 1930’s Dustbowl America-a period that remains arguably the warmest in recorded history in that country.
We have numerous other pieces of evidence to demonstrate cyclical climate change throughout the instrumental record, when periods of cold were replaced by welcome warmth that helped to kick start the age of industrialisation and exploration which has shaped the modern world.
The Met office claim that there was little variability prior to the modern era appears to have little merit, and is all the more surprising as their Exeter UK base is but ten miles from upland Dartmoor, where numerous examples of climate change from both the Bronze age and MWP can be readily found.
“The majority of the prehistoric remains on Dartmoor date back to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Indeed Dartmoor contains the largest concentration of Bronze Age remains in the United Kingdom which suggests that this was when a larger population moved onto the hills of Dartmoor…..The climate at the time was warmer than today, and much of today’s moor land was covered with trees. The prehistoric settlers began clearing the forest, and established the first farming communities.”
“The climate worsened over the course of a thousand years from around 1000BC, so that much of high Dartmoor was largely abandoned by its early inhabitants. It was not until the early mediaeval period that the weather again became warmer, and settlers moved back onto the moors.”
Clearly, there was great fluctuation between warm and cold periods throughout the historical record. As for the IPCC, from their Geneva HQ they have ready access to the world’s extensive literature on climatology and also must be aware that the city they are based in can boast of instrumental records back to 1753. These illustrate not only natural variability and the centuries long warming trend, but the effects of UHI as the city’s population has escalated from around 9000 back then, to some 190,000 today-with the Geneva canton being about double that of the city.
Above; Geneva from 1753 with a centuries long rise in temperatures. (This record was also shown with a trend line earlier in the article). If the records only went back a few more decades the Geneva graph would also include the notable warmth during the first few decades of the 18th Century, already remarked on here, further demonstrating natural variability.
The globe appears to have been gently warming for 400 years- with numerous reversals and cold periods interspersed with warm ones. Within this overall trend can be discerned regions running counter cyclical to the warming trend, as was observed in the article ‘In search of cooling trends’.
We estimated around one third of all stations to be cooling, a figure now endorsed by the Berkeley study. The assertion regarding lack of climate variability cited at the top of this article by two of the most prestigious climate organizations cannot be supported-there were periods around as warm as today as well as very cold periods, demonstrating great variability, no doubt there were also areas running counter cyclical to the prevailing trend, as can be seen today.
Note 1 * The quote from St Cyrian in 250AD provided earlier would be considered ‘anecdotal,’ a particularly derisory term in the Climate Science Dictionary, who prefer computer models or intriguing proxies. However, in this instance the journal ‘Science’ comes to our aid. On their website they quote Ulf Buntgen of the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape, who produced a study looking back on 2500 years of climate change. He wrote ‘increased climate variability from AD250 to 600 coincided with the demise of the western Roman Empire and the turmoil of the migration period. Distinct drying in the third century paralleled a period of serious crisis in the western Roman Empire marked by barbarian invasion, political turmoil and economic dislocation in several provinces of Gaul.”